In the US, bringing horses together with children who have mental or emotional disorders has had startling results.
Children with autism and attention deficit disorder often struggle to communicate - but put them with horses and they can achieve so much. That's what Hacienda Andalucia when he introduced Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) to children with serious emotional challenges.
EFL is a therapy where the children learn about themselves, other people and interacting with the world. It's not about teaching riding or horse care skills and the children don't need any previous experience of horses.
"It's been clinically proven that just being in the vicinity of horses changes our brainwave patterns"Some people says. "They have a calming effect which helps stop people becoming fixated on past or negative events - giving them a really positive experience".
EFL has proven to be particularly useful for children with autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and bipolar disorders - all of whom may find it difficult to communicate, interact with other people and carry out instructions.
The results are startling. Even those showing severe anti-social and aggressive behavior become calmer and more communicative.
"Horses react as a mirror to the person who's with him" says Franklin. "He's a prey animal so he wants to feel safe and is always on the lookout for predators. A horse will become very fearful if he's with someone who's aggressive, noisy, disrespectful or too controlling. On the other hand, if the person makes requests rather than demands the horse will begin to cooperate. He is always looking for a leader."
This is why horses are so good to use as therapy for children. A child who is given just a little insight into dealing with a horse in the right way can become the natural leader the horse is looking for. The horse in return feels safe and peaceful and will cooperate with what the child asks of him.
Children, even those with emotional or mental disorders, can often manage a horse more easily and more quickly than adults. Children accept things at face value and are more open to developing an equal relationship rather than trying to control.
A horse is looking for simple and clear commands, and a child, with the right encouragement and in the right situation, can carry these out very effectively. "Go, stop, back up, turn this way or that way" is all that's needed.
"For children with mental and emotional disorders the positive benefits of getting a horse to carry out these commands are often profound." Says Franklin.
"Children with ADD will focus on the horse for long periods while grooming or leading the horse when usually they can't concentrate long enough to do anything much. Autistic children who are withdrawn and living very much in their own world will begin to express themselves - often using new words or gestures they've never expressed before.
"Once children realize what they can achieve their self-esteem increases in leaps and bounds. Imagine what it must feel like to lead an animal through an obstacle course, stopping and starting when you want to, when you usually find it difficult to concentrate, communicate or stay in control?".
A full training course must be undertaken before being allowed to do this work.
EFL Horses are assessed to ensure they are suitable for working with children.
All the children are referred for EFL through a physician, therapist or agency and the funding for their treatment comes from these sources.
There isn't a specific type or breed of horse that is suitable for EFL. It really is an individual thing. All horses, perhaps with the exception of stallions and competition horses, can be used for EFL. What is important is that they have a calm, patient and trainable temperament.
Safety is the top priority and every horse has to undergo a thorough assessment before being considered for EFL. The horse must not kick, rear, buck, bite or mouth and he must be sound.
During therapy the children are asked to carry out exercises including leading and lunging, sometimes over cavaletti. The horse must be capable of doing all of these without getting stressed.
EFL horses have to carry out commands without being touched and cant be easily fazed by children working in different ways. For example, a child might lead from the wrong side or not stand in the best place when halting him.